Federal Labs Consortium Honors a Leader in Army Infrastructure Research

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Each year, the Federal Laboratories Consortium, the government’s technology transfer operations network, honors one of its members as Laboratory Manager of the Year. This year’s recipient directs the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory at the Army Engineering Research and Development Center. Bartley Durst spoke to the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Tom Temin: Mr Durst. It’s good to have you.

Bartley Durst: Hello. Glad to be here.

Tom Temin: Well, give us the architecture here. You are a geotechnical and structures laboratory of the Army Engineering Research and Development Center. First talk about the center and what’s going on there in terms of Army research.

Bartley Durst: Granted, well, the Engineers Research and Development Center or ERDC is the R&D component of the US Army Corps of Engineers. We have seven labs across the country. And we have our headquarters in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where my lab is, the geotechnical and structural lab. A bit of history, the ERDC is approaching its 100th anniversary. It was founded after the great flood of 1927. Its main purpose was to combat hydraulic floods as the nation tackled this problem. So over the decades it has evolved a lot, we do a combination of military and civilian works infrastructure research supporting the nation and the combatant. These seven labs, as I mentioned, four are located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, one in Champaign, Illinois, one in Hanover, New Hampshire and also one in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Tom Temin: Very well. And your specialty is geotechnics and structures. Tell us more about it.

Bartley Durst: Yes, so we are originally two of the original labs at the start of the ERDC’s history and we were combined into the Geotechnical and Structures lab. We carry out a mission to support the nation both in the field of military engineering, technological development, as well as support for our country’s public works infrastructure and military transport infrastructure. So a combination of largely military R&D, but also civilian R&D for the classic Corps of Engineers mission space,

Tom Temin: What are some of the geotechnical features and structures? I mean, is it bridges? Sounds like nature things built?

Bartley Durst: Yes absolutely. Thus, on the public works side, we work with dykes, bridges, navigation structures, such as locks and dams. And that was the founding element of our laboratory, the GSL. But since World War II, we have also emphasized military engineering. This military support to the Department of Defense, the military and many other agencies relates to force protection technologies, solutions that protect against the effects of weapons and other physical security issues for our armed forces, as well that force projection, the ability to project our forces globally by air, land, and sea, such as airfields, ports, railroads, and bridges, that kind of transportation infrastructure, and advancing those capabilities for our armed forces.

On the civil infrastructure side, as I mentioned, it’s about building with earth, as well as concrete and steel. So with that, it’s our levees and other water resources, our infrastructure, mainly to prevent infrastructure failures or ways to improve its performance.

Tom Temin: Looks like your group had to play a part in the B-29 airstrips on the way to Tinian during WWII to get those heavy bombers closer to Japan.

Bartley Durst: That’s right, along with many other developments in airfield capabilities to repair damaged airfields, put in landing mats, that have sprung up here in this lab, like in the Korean and Vietnamese era, and so on. So a lot of work and expertise, world-class expertise and facilities here to support that capability and field it for the soldiers.

Tom Temin: We speak with Bartley Durst, he is director of the geotechnical and structural laboratory at the Army Engineers Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi. And also, he’s the laboratory consortium lab manager of the year, and I imagine the technology for engineering work has changed a lot over the years. It’s software based as opposed to a slide rule and testing things until they break the operation type?

Bartley Durst: It’s true. Over the years, it has been born out of many small-scale as well as large-scale physical modeling and experiments, which become quite expensive and time-consuming. Over the years, with great advances in computing, it is a combination of precision laboratory experiments, still doing large-scale experiments in the field, but relying heavily on progress and numerical modeling. Here we have some of the fastest supercomputers in the world, high performance computing capability in which numerical modeling and big data analysis can be performed to produce the solutions faster and better, as well as faster. Great advances in our R&D capabilities.

Tom Temin: And what are some of the technology transfer activities? Because that’s what the lab consortium is concerned about. How does it work where you are?

Bartley Durst: Yes, so I did a lot to inculcate a culture of technology transfer. Technology transfer is actually the commercialization of inventions and other capabilities for production, mass production results and job creation, which is great for the economy of this country, but also, for the user, our combatants and civilians, it allows us to have access to these solutions at a more reasonable cost, faster delivery times for the deployment of materials. And it also creates a spiraling development loop where new improvements and advancements are rolled into the system faster. So it’s a very healthy arrangement for our researchers to let go of their baby and go into the private sector, and get that production capability which then includes better fielding. All of this, making the world safer and better, is part of our motto here.

Tom Temin: And you’re the director of the lab. Are you an engineer and tell us about your background and how you came to this particular perch?

Bartley Durst: Yes, I am an engineer. I’m a civil engineer specializing in structural and geotechnical engineering, and I also have a lot of experience in sensor physics and environmental sensing. So I started in the federal government as an intern during my undergraduate studies. So now I have about 39 years of federal service. I’ve been a senior executive here and have held leadership positions for the past six years. So with that, I started with an appetite for technology transfer. I have over 20 patents throughout my career ranging from types of camouflage, concealment and deception solutions for sensor work, as well as protection around survivability and protective structures. With that, I lead a fantastic team of engineers and scientists who have taken the examples I gave them, and they fully understand the benefits of technology transfer, quickly capturing their intellectual property. And work with our research and technology transfer office here at ERDC to patent things where appropriate, as well as to publish peer-reviewed publications.

With that, I will also say that we have established a program intermediary agreement with an organization called ERDC Works. ERDC Works has done an excellent job of going beyond the usual patent licensing publicity. Usually through the FedBizOpps publication, Federal Business Opportunities. We have worked with ERDC Works to establish technology challenges that increase private sector awareness of these industry opportunities. And it was quite successful. And we expect and are excited about the growth of this capability, which really brings a lot of technology to the user quickly.

Tom Temin: And knowing what you know about structures and some of the patents you have, I imagine you’re the person to go to if someone wants a really good hunting cache.

Bartley Durst: In fact, I’ve been approached several times about this and some of our federal government patents have grown to produce things for this sector of our society, particularly in camouflage and deception. We do a lot of duck hunting and other hunting activities here in the Deep South. So very happy with that.

Tom Temin: It sounds fantastic. Bartley Durst is the director of the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory at the Army Engineering Research and Development Center. He is also the Laboratory Director of the Year for the Consortium of Federal Laboratories. Thank you very much for joining me.

Bartley Durst: Thanks Tom.

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